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Full Online Book HomeLong StoriesGodolphin - Chapter 31. A Scene.--Lucilla's Strange Conduct...
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Godolphin - Chapter 31. A Scene.--Lucilla's Strange Conduct... Post by :66034 Category :Long Stories Author :Edward Bulwer-lytton Date :May 2012 Read :1016

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Godolphin - Chapter 31. A Scene.--Lucilla's Strange Conduct...

CHAPTER XXXI. A SCENE.--LUCILLA'S STRANGE CONDUCT-GODOLPHIN PASSES THROUGH A SEVERE ORDEAL.--EGERIA'S GROTTO, AND WHAT THERE HAPPENS


Let us pass over Godolphin's most painful task. What Lucilla's feelings were, the reader may imagine; and yet, her wayward and unanalysed temper mocked at once imagination and expression to depict its sufferings or its joys.

The brother of Volktman's wife was sent for: he and his wife took possession of the abode of death. This, if possible, heightened Lucilla's anguish. The apathetic and vain character of the middle classes in Rome, which her relations shared, stung her heart by contrasting its own desolate abandonment to grief. Above all, she was revolted by the unnatural ceremonies of a Roman funeral. The corpse exposed--the cheeks painted--the parading procession, all shocked the delicacy of her real and reckless affliction. But when this was over--when the rite of death was done, and when, in the house wherein her sire had presided, and she herself had been left to a liberty wholly unrestricted, she saw strangers (for such comparatively her relatives were to her) settling themselves down, with vacant countenances and light words, to the common occupations of life,--when she saw them move, alter (nay, talk calmly, and sometimes with jests, of selling), those little household articles of furniture which, homely and worn as they were, were hallowed to her by a thousand dear, and infantine, and filial recollections;--when, too, she found herself treated as a child, and, in some measure, as a dependant,--when she, the wild, the free, saw herself subjected to restraint--nay, heard the commonest actions of her life chidden and reproved,--when she saw the trite and mean natures which thus presumed to lord it over her, and assume empire in the house of one, of whose wild and lofty, though erring speculations--of whose generous though abstract elements of character, she could comprehend enough to respect, while what she did not comprehend heightened the respect into awe;--then, the more vehement and indignant passions of her mind broke forth! her flashing eye, her scornful gesture, her mysterious threat, and her open defiance, astonished always, sometimes amused, but more often terrified, the apathetic and superstitious Italians.

Godolphin, moved by interest and pity for the daughter of his friend, called once or twice after the funeral at the house; and commended, with promises and gifts, the desolate girl to the tenderness and commiseration of her relations. There is nothing an Italian will not promise, nothing he will not sell; and Godolphin thus purchased, in reality, a forbearance to Lucilla's strange temper (as it was considered) which otherwise, assuredly, would not have been displayed.

More than a month had elapsed since the astrologer's decease; and, the season of the malaria verging to its commencement, Godolphin meditated a removal to Naples. He strolled, two days prior to his departure, to the house on the Appia Via, in order to take leave of Lucilla, and bequeath to her relations his parting injunctions.

It was a strange and harsh face that peered forth on him through the iron grating of the door before he obtained admittance; and when he entered, he heard the sound of voices in loud altercation. Among the rest, the naturally dulcet and silver tones of Lucilla were strained beyond their wonted key, and breathed the accents of passion and disdain.

He entered the room whence the sounds of dispute proceeded, and the first face that presented itself to him was that of Lucilla. It was flushed with anger; the veins in the smooth forehead were swelled; the short lip breathed beautiful contempt. She stood at some little distance from the rest of the inmates of the room, who were seated; and her posture was erect and even stately, though in wrath: her arms were folded upon her bosom, and the composed excitement of her figure contrasted with the play, and fire, and energy of her features.

At Godolphin's appearance, a sudden silence fell upon the conclave; the uncle and the aunt (the latter of whom had seemed the noisiest) subsided into apologetic respect to the rich (he was rich to them) young Englishman; and Lucilla sank into a seat, covered her face with her small and beautiful hands, and--humbled from her anger and her vehemence--burst into tears.

"And what is this?" said Godolphin, pityingly.

The Italians hastened to inform him. Lucilla had chosen to absent herself from home every evening; she had been seen, the last night on the Corso,--crowded as that street was with the young, the profligate, and the idle. They could not but reprove "the dear girl" for this indiscretion (Italians, indifferent as to the conduct of the married, are generally attentive to that of their single, women); and she announced her resolution to persevere in it.

"Is this true, my pupil?" said Godolphin, turning to Lucilla: the poor girl sobbed on, but returned no answer. "Leave me to reprimand and admonish her," said he to the aunt and uncle; and they, without appearing to notice the incongruity of reprimand in the mouth of a man of seven-and-twenty to a girl of fifteen, chattered forth a Babel of conciliation and left the apartment.

Godolphin, young as he might be, was not unfitted for his task. There was a great deal of quiet dignity mingled with the kindness of his manner; and his affection for Lucilla had hitherto been so pure, that he felt no embarrassment in addressing her as a brother. He approached the corner of the room in which she sat; he drew a chair near to her; and took her reluctant and trembling hand with a gentleness that made her weep with a yet wilder vehemence.

"My dear Lucilla," said he, "you know your father honoured me with his regard: let me presume on that regard, and on my long acquaintance with yourself, to address you as your friend--as your brother." Lucilla drew away her hand; but again, as if ashamed of the impulse, extended it towards him.

"You cannot know the world as I do, dear Lucilla," continued Godolphin; "for experience in its affairs is bought at some little expense, which I pray that it may never cost you. In all countries, Lucilla, an unmarried female is exposed to dangers which, without any actual fault of her own, may embitter her future life. One of the greatest of these dangers lies in deviating from custom. With the woman who does this, every man thinks himself entitled to give his thoughts--his words--nay, even his actions, a license which you cannot but dread to incur. Your uncle and aunt, therefore, do right to advise your not going alone, to the public streets of Rome more especially, except in the broad daylight; and though their advice be irksomely intruded, and ungracefully couched, it is good in its principle, and--yes, dearest Lucilla, even necessary for you to follow."

"But," said Lucilla, through her tears, "you cannot guess what insults, what unkindness, I have been forced to submit to from them. I, who never knew, till now, what insult and unkindness were! I, who----" here sobs checked her utterance.

"But how, my young and fair friend, how can you mend their manners by destroying their esteem for you? Respect yourself, Lucilla, if you wish others to respect you. But, perhaps,"--and such a thought for the first time flashed across Godolphin--"perhaps you did not seek the Corso for the _crowd but for _one; perhaps you went there to meet--dare I guess the fact?--an admirer, a lover."

"Now _you insult me!" cried Lucilla, angrily.

"I thank you for your anger; I accept it as a contradiction," said Godolphin. "But listen yet a while, and for give frankness. If there be any one, among the throng of Italian youths, whom you have seen, and could be happy with; one who loves you and whom you do not hate;--remember that I am your father's friend; that I am rich; that I can----"

"Cruel, cruel!" interrupted Lucilla and withdrawing herself from Godolphin, she walked to and fro with great and struggling agitation.

"Is it not so, then?" said Godolphin, doubtingly.

"No, sir: no!"

"Lucilla Volktman," said Godolphin, with a colder gravity than he had yet called forth, "I claim some attention from you, some confidence, nay, some esteem;--for the sake of your father--for the sake of your early years, when I assisted to teach you my native tongue, and loved you as a brother. Promise me that you will not commit this indiscretion any more--at least till we meet again; nay, that you will not stir abroad, save with one of your relations."

"Impossible! impossible!" cried Lucilla, vehemently; "it were to take away the only solace I have: it were to make life a privation--a curse."

"Not so, Lucilla; it is to make life respectable and safe. I, on the other hand, will engage that all within these walls shall behave to you with indulgence and kindness."

"I care not for their kindness!--for the kindness of any one; save----"

"Whom?" asked Godolphin, perceiving she would not proceed: but as she was still silent, he did not press the question. "Come!" said he, persuasively: "come, promise, and be friends with me; do not let us part angrily: I am about to take my leave of you for many months.

"Part!--you!--months!--O God, do not say so!"

With these words, she was by his side; and gazing on him with her large and pleading eyes, wherein was stamped a wildness, a terror, the cause of which he did not as yet decipher.

"No, no," said she, with a faint smile: "no! you mean to frighten me, to extort my promise. You are not going to desert me!"

"But, Lucilla, I will not leave you to unkindness; they shall not--they dare not wound you again."

"Say to me that you are not going from Rome--speak; quick!"

"I go in two days."

"Then let me die!" said Lucilla, in a tone of such deep despair, that it chilled and appalled Godolphin, who did not, however, attribute her grief (the grief of this mere child--a child so wayward and eccentric) to any other cause than that feeling of abandonment which the young so bitterly experience at being left utterly alone with persons unfamiliar to their habits and opposed to their liking.

He sought to soothe her, but she repelled him. Her features worked convulsively: she walked twice across the room; then stopped opposite to him, and a certain strained composure on her brow seemed to denote that she had arrived at some sudden resolution.

"Wouldst thou ask me," she said, "what cause took me into the streets as the shadows darkened, and enabled me lightly to bear threats at home and risk abroad?"

"Ay, Lucilla: will you tell me?"

"Thou wast the cause!" she said, in a low voice, trembling with emotion, and the next moment sank on her knees before him.

With a confusion that ill became so practised and favoured a gallant, Godolphin sought to raise her. "No! no!" she said; "you will despise me now: let me lie here, and die thinking of thee. Yes!" she continued, with an inward but rapid voice, as he lifted her reluctant frame from the earth, and hung over her with a cold and uncaressing attention: "yes! you I loved--I adored--from my very childhood. When you were by, life seemed changed to me; when absent, I longed for night, that I might dream of you. The spot you had touched I marked out in silence, that I might kiss it and address it when you were gone. You left us; four years passed away: and the recollection of you made and shaped my very nature. I loved solitude; for in solitude I saw you--in imagination I spoke to you--and methought you answered and did not chide. You returned--and--and--but no matter: to see you, at the hour you usually leave home; to see you, I wandered forth with the evening. I tracked you, myself unseen; I followed you at a distance: I marked you disappear within some of the proud palaces that never know what love is. I returned home weeping, but happy. And do you think--do you dare to think--that I should have told you this, had you not driven me mad!--had you not left me reckless of what henceforth was thought of me--became of me! What will life be to me when you are gone? And now I have said all! Go! You do not love me: I know it: but do not say so. Go--leave me; why do you not leave me?"

Does there live one man who can hear a woman, young and beautiful, confess attachment to him, and not catch the contagion? Affected, flattered, and almost melted into love himself, Godolphin felt all the danger of the moment but this young, inexperienced girl--the daughter of his friend--no! her he could not--loving, willing as she was, betray.

Yet it was some moments before he could command himself sufficiently to answer her:--"Listen to me calmly," at length he said; "we are at least to each other dear friends nay, listen, I beseech you. I, Lucilla, am a man whose heart is forestalled--exhausted before its time; I have loved, deeply, and passionately: that love is over, but it has unfitted me for any species of love resembling itself--any which I could offer to you. Dearest Lucilla, I will not disguise the truth from you. Were I to love you, it would be--not in the eyes of _your countrymen (with whom such connexions are common), but in the eyes of mine--it would be dishonour. Shall I confer even this partial dishonour on you? No! Lucilla, this feeling of yours towards me is (pardon me) but a young and childish phantasy: you will smile at it some years hence. I am not worthy of so pure and fresh a heart: but at least" (here he spoke in a lower voice, and as to himself)--"at least I am not so unworthy as to wrong it."

"Go!" said Lucilla; "go, I implore you." She spoke, and stood hueless and motionless, as if the life (life's life was indeed gone!) had departed from her. Her features were set and rigid; the tears that stole in large drops down her cheeks were unfelt; a slight quivering of her lips only bespoke what passed within her.

"Ah!" cried Godolphin, stung from his usual calm--stung from the quiet kindness he had sought, from principle, to assume--"can I withstand this trial?--I, whose dream of life has been the love that I might now find! I, who have never before known an obstacle to a wish which I have not contended against, if not conquered: and, weakened as I am with the habitual indulgence to temptation, which has never been so strong as now;--but no! I will--I will deserve this attachment by self-restraint, self-sacrifice."

He moved away; and then returning, dropped on his knee before Lucilla.

"Spare me!" said he in an agitated voice, which brought back all the blood to that young and transparent cheek, which was now half averted from him--"spare me--spare yourself! Look around, when I am gone, for some one to replace my image: thousands younger, fairer, warmer of heart, will aspire to your love; that love for them will be exposed to no peril--no shame: forget me; select another; be happy and respected. Permit me alone to fill the place of your friend--your brother. I will provide for your comforts, your liberty: you shall be restrained, offended no more. God bless you, dear, dear Lucilla; and believe," (he said almost in a whisper), "that, in thus flying you, I have acted generously, and with an effort worthy of your loveliness and your love."

He said, and hurried from the apartment. Lucilla turned slowly round as the door closed and then fell motionless on the ground.

Meanwhile Godolphin, mastering his emotion, sought the host and hostess; and begging them to visit his lodging that evening, to receive certain directions and rewards, hastily left the house.

But instead of returning home, the desire for a brief solitude and self-commune, which usually follows strong excitement, (and which, in all less ordinary events, suggested his sole counsellors or monitors to the musing Godolphin), led his steps in an opposite direction. Scarcely conscious whither he was wandering, he did not pause till he found himself in that green and still valley in which the pilgrim beholds the grotto of Egeria.

It was noon, and the day warm, but not overpowering. The leaf slept on the old trees that are scattered about that little valley; and amidst the soft and rich turf the wanderer's step disturbed the lizard, basking its brilliant hues in the noontide, and glancing rapidly through the herbage as it retreated. And from the trees, and through the air, the occasional song of the birds (for in Italy their voices are rare) floated with a peculiar clearness, and even noisiness of music, along the deserted haunts of the Nymph.

The scene, rife with its beautiful associations, recalled Godolphin from his reverie. "And here," thought he, "Fable has thrown its most lovely enduring enchantment: here, every one who has tasted the loves of earth, and sickened for the love that is ideal, finds a spell more attractive to his steps--more fraught with contemplation to his spirit, than aught raised by the palace of the Caesars or the tomb of the Scipios."

Thus meditating, and softened by the late scene with Lucilla, (to which his thoughts again recurred), he sauntered onward to the steep side of the bank, in which faith and tradition have hollowed out the grotto of the goddess. He entered the silent cavern, and bathed his temples in the delicious waters of the fountain.

It was perhaps well that it was not at that moment Lucilla made to him her strange and unlooked-for confession: again and again he said to himself (as if seeking for a justification of his self-sacrifice), "Her father was not Italian, and possessed feeling and honour: let me not forget that he loved me!" In truth, the avowal of this wild girl; an avowal made indeed with the ardour--but also breathing of the innocence, the inexperience--of her character--had opened to his fancy new and not undelicious prospects. He had never loved her, save with a lukewarm kindness, before that last hour; but now, in recalling her beauty, her tears, her passionate abandonment can we wonder that he felt a strange beating at his heart, and that he indulged that dissolved and luxurious vein of tender meditation which is the prelude to all love? We must recall, too, the recollection of his own temper, so constantly yearning for the unhackneyed, the untasted; and his deep and soft order of imagination, by which he involuntarily conjured up the delight of living with one, watching one, so different from the rest of the world, and whose thoughts and passions (wild as they might be) were all devoted to him!

And in what spot were these imaginings fed and coloured? In a spot which in the nature of its divine fascination could be found only beneath one sky, that sky the most balmy and loving upon earth! Who could think of love within the haunt and temple of

"That Nympholepsy of some fond despair,"

and not feel that love enhanced, deepened, modulated, into at once a dream and a desire?

It was long that Godolphin indulged himself in recalling the image of Lucilla; but nerved at length and gradually, by harder, and we may hope better, sentiments than those of a love which he could scarcely indulge without criminality on the one hand, or, what must have appeared to the man of the world, derogatory folly on the other; he turned his thoughts into a less voluptuous channel, and prepared, though with a reluctant step, to depart homewards. But what was his amaze, his confusion, when, on reaching the mouth of the cave, he saw within a few steps of him Lucilla herself!

She was walking alone and slowly, her eyes bent upon the ground, and did not perceive him. According to a common custom with the middle classes of Rome, her rich hair, save by a single band, was uncovered; and as her slight and exquisite form moved along the velvet sod, so beautiful a shape, and a face so rare in its character, and delicate in its expression, were in harmony with the sweet superstition of the spot, and seemed almost to restore to the deserted cave and the mourning stream their living Egeria.

Godolphin stood transfixed to the earth; and Lucilla, who was walking in the direction of the grotto, did not perceive, till she was almost immediately before him. She gave a faint scream as she lifted her eyes; and the first and most natural sentiment of the woman breaking forth involuntarily,--she attempted to falter out her disavowal of all expectation of meeting him there.

"Indeed, indeed, I did not know--that is--I--I--" she could achieve no more.

"Is this a favourite spot with you?" said he, with the vague embarrassment of one at a loss for words.

"Yes," said Lucilla, faintly.

And so, in truth, it was: for its vicinity to her home, the beauty of the little valley, and the interest attached to it--an interest not the less to her in that she was but imperfectly acquainted with the true legend of the Nymph and her royal lover--had made it, even from her childhood, a chosen and beloved retreat, especially in that dangerous summer time, which drives the visitor from the spot, and leaves the scene, in great measure, to the solitude which befits it. Associated as the place was with the recollection of her earlier griefs, it was thither that her first instinct made her fly from the rude contact and displeasing companionship of her relations, to give vent to the various and conflicting passions which the late scene with Godolphin had called forth.

They now stood for a few moments silent and embarrassed, till Godolphin, resolved to end a scene which he began to feel was dangerous, said in a hurried tone:--

"Farewell, my sweet pupil!--farewell!--May God bless you!"

He extended his hand, Lucilla seized it, as if by impulse; and conveying it suddenly to her lips, bathed it with tears. "I feel," said this wild and unregulated girl, "I feel, from your manner, that I ought to be grateful to you: yet I scarcely know why: you confessed you cannot love me, that my affection distresses you--you fly--you desert me. Ah, if you felt one particle even of friendship for me, could you do so?"

"Lucilla, what can I say?--I cannot marry you."

"Do I wish it?--I ask thee but to let me go with thee wherever thou goest."

"Poor child!" said Godolphin, gazing on her; "art thou not aware that thou askest thine own dishonour?"

Lucilla seemed surprised:--"Is it dishonour to love? They do not think so in Italy. It is wrong for a maiden to confess it; but that thou hast forgiven me. And if to follow thee--to sit with thee--to be near thee--bring aught of evil to myself, not thee,--let me incur the evil: it can be nothing compared to the agony of thy absence!"

She looked up timidly as she spoke, and saw, with a sort of terror, that his face worked with emotions which seemed to choke his answer. "If," she cried passionately, "if I have said what pains thee--if I have asked what would give dishonour, as thou callest it, or harm, to thyself, for give me--I knew it not--and leave me. But if it were not of thyself that thou didst speak, believe that thou hast done me but a cruel mercy. Let me go with thee, I implore! I have no friend here: no one loves me. I hate the faces I gaze upon; I loathe the voices I hear. And, were it for nothing else, thou remindest me of him who is gone:--thou art familiar to me--every look of thee breathes of my home, of my household recollections. Take me with thee, beloved stranger!--or leave me to die--I will not survive thy loss!"

"You speak of your father: know you that, were I to grant what you, in your childish innocence, so unthinkingly request, he might curse me from his grave?"

"O God, not so!--mine is the prayer--be mine the guilt, if guilt there be. But is it not unkinder in thee to desert his daughter than to protect her?"

There was a great, a terrible struggle in Godolphin's breast. "What," said he, scarcely knowing what he said,--"what will the world think of you if you fly with a stranger?"

"There is no world to me but thee!"

"What will your uncle--your relations say?"

"I care not; for I shall not hear them."

"No, no; this must not be!" said Godolphin proudly, and once more conquering himself. "Lucilla, I would give up every other dream or hope in life to feel that I might requite this devotion by passing my life with thee: to feel that I might grant what thou askest without wronging thy innocence; but--but--"

"You love me then! You love me!" cried Lucilla, joyously, and alive to no other interpretation of his words. Godolphin was transported beyond himself; and clasping Lucilla in his arms he covered her cheeks, her lips, with impassioned and burning kisses; then suddenly, as if stung by some irresistible impulse, he tore himself away; and fled from the spot.

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